08 August 2006

Looking at Africa

I came across an essay and slideshow in Open Democracy by Okwui Enwezor, curator of the exhibition "Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography." The exhibition was at the ICP in New York this past spring. (You can read The New York Times review and see some of the works here; the Village Voice assessment is here.) It has now traveled to Miami Art Central where it will be through the 27th of this month (unfortunately I cannot find a working link to that venue).

"Lagos Uptight" (2001-05) © Kelechi Amadi-Obi

The Open Democracy essay apparently is adapted from Enwezor's introduction to the exhibition catalogue. In it he writes:

"Given the prevailing, anti-photogenic gaze of these artists, the exhibition most certainly denies the viewer the violent spectacle of deprivation and depravity that has constituted the signature visual image of Africa. In fact, the works evidence a subtle yet substantive critique of such images. Not because there is no deprivation or depravity in contemporary Africa, but because the metaphors of violence and poverty cheapen our understanding of the cultural context.

The paradox is that images of suffering – which function as a sort of shorthand for neither looking properly nor seeing Africans in "normal" human terms – do not ameliorate the disasters that they purportedly engage. On the contrary, they have compounded and skewed the photographic imperatives of a mediatised fascination with the continent's "abnormality" as the primal scene of global media's masochist pleasure, its unrelenting horror vacui. This is why quite often what the viewer encounters in the works produced by artists and photographers in this exhibition is a kind of anti-photogenic and anti-spectacular approach to making images."

Couleurs de Pêche [Colors of Fishing], from the series Capitales Africaines, ca. 2000-2005, © Boubacar Touré Mandemory,



Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are in fact many photographers (though not necesarily the run-of-the-mill photojournalist) who focus on Africa in the way you reccommend, specifically of interest to you might be David Golblatt: http://www.michaelstevenson.com/contemporary/artists/goldblatt.htm , who makes special effort to provide long and factually accurate captions - though mostly available in his books. He has spent many years documenting Apartied in SA in a way that revealed the not so obvious evidence of that system and its effects.

It takes someone prepared to spend *time* exploring these images and in a world where readers quickly skip from one thing to the next they are often overlooked. I often feel it is the quick-fix nature of the reader that is responsible for what is published by photo-journalists (on the whole they would much rather spend timethey don't have exploring an issue).

PS. What happened to the other comments?

15 August, 2006 01:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've realised I meant to post this on the afro-pessimism post...hence no other comments

15 August, 2006 02:25  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Phillip: Thanks for the comment. I am interested in the general theme and will track down the fellow you mention. I apprecciate the lead.

I agree with you about readers and wonder whether there may be a remedy in web technologies. I am not sure, b ut perhapas. One might have collabroative projects and so forth as well. But that means finding morums and time! to bring photographers togehter with other folks with whom they might work.

15 August, 2006 10:08  

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